Music, Sound, and the Moving Image

Star Trek and the Musical Depiction of the Alien Other

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (2013), 7, (1), 19–52.

Abstract

The multimedia franchise is an increasingly significant part of modern media culture. This article is a case study in reading franchise music. Star Trek spans forty-eight years and consists primarily of six television series and twelve films. These media texts share audiences, fictions and even musical material. This rich site of musical investigation is explored through considering the way in which music depicts alien ‘Others’.

First, to illustrate the varied, multifaceted, multi-authored space of television series music, the franchise's musical processes are considered by examining contrasting strategies of the musical depictions of aliens within the same series. Second, to explore the franchise's musical space over a broader span of time and variety of media, the evolution of the music for one particular alien species over both film and television is traced from the 1960s to the early 2000s.

Star Trek uses music to articulate alterity in a variety of ways. In some episodes/films, differing degrees of alterity are musically expressed, while in others, alien identities are created either through generic musical signifiers of the exoticised ‘Other’ or through reference to particular real-world identities (introducing an allegorical dimension to the depiction). Composed ‘source music’ also contributes to the representation of an alien species. Musical depictions evolve as the same aliens reoccur throughout the franchise with different narrative roles to play, while the different media bring their own practices and contexts to bear upon the musical depictions. The textually-grounded musical analysis in this article demonstrates how franchise music can be ‘read’.

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Author details

Summers, Tim